Farm to Institution seeds grow in 2017

F2I 12-21-17

Photo courtesy IATP

2017 has been a dynamic year for the Farm to Institution program at IATP! This was the second year we engaged with multiple Head Start program partners concurrently to implement our Farm to Head Start model, with a final cohort of four partner programs. This was a big learning year for us, as it was the first time we worked with programs in truly rural communities and smaller towns across Minnesota. We learned a great deal from adapting our model to these rural contexts, each of which brought its own unique challenges and opportunities. Their Farm to Head Start initiatives unfolded differently to match their situations given the wide range in locations, foodservice operations and local food supply chains.

Our selected partners for 2017 were:

Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (with locations spread around Minnesota)

Tri-Valley is a unique Head Start program, operating specifically to serve the children and families of migrant farm workers who travel to Minnesota during the growing season. We were excited to partner with them because of the clear connection these children already have with agriculture. Given Tri-Valley’s complexity in terms of geographic range and diverse food service configurations, Nutrition Manager Jami Nunn decided to focus on select center locations to pilot the model this year, with a long-term goal of adding more locations in the future. Jami worked with a food distribution company that could source a variety of local fruits and vegetables at each site, and she plans to utilize the ability to supply local produce in her selection criteria for the program’s food service contract in the future. We count this as a huge win for the long-term sustainability of local purchasing at Tri-Valley!

Tri-County Community Action Head Start in Little Falls and Brainerd

Tri-County Head Start developed a very successful version of our model, with a great demonstration of how working with a regional food hub can be an effective strategy for sourcing locally-grown food. Sprout Food Hub in Little Falls was an excellent partner for Tri-County, bringing its experience selling to six K-12 schools to guide Tri-County through an unfamiliar process: Deciding which local products to purchase, setting up an ordering and delivery system, and coordinating billing and payment. Tri-County’s partnership with Sprout yielded other benefits, too. Few of the Tri-County staff were aware of the food hub in their community prior to working together on Farm to Head Start, but as a result of this partnership, several of the teachers reported shopping at Sprout’s farmers’ market.

United Community Action Partnership Head Start in Willmar 

Our partnership with UCAP Head Start in Willmar helped us think creatively about a local food supply chain. Without the facilities or equipment to cook snacks themselves, UCAP was limited to purchasing local foods that can be eaten raw. Through IATP’s network of partners, we learned about a new food hub that had been established in Willmar and was looking to get started with institutional sales. Real Food was able to start small and supply UCAP with local apples and carrots, and both organizations are looking forward to partnering together in the future. In fact, UCAP’s needs are now influencing Real Food’s development as they decide how best to serve the needs of their community. We are excited about the ability for UCAP’s local purchasing to expand alongside Real Food’s facilities and capacity, as both of them grow together. 

Lakes and Pines Community Action Council Head Start in Mora

Like UCAP, the Lakes and Pines Head Start in Mora lacked kitchen facilities and relied on the local school district to cater its meals. They needed to supply snacks that are already processed and individually packaged for its students. We connected with the school district and found that they were working with Upper Lakes Foods (a distribution company that our partners at Tri-County were already successfully teaming with to purchase local produce). This was a big win since Upper Lakes Foods could provide the processed and packaged snacks Lakes and Pines needed, and deliver it to the school where they were already picking up their daily meals, streamlining their entire food procurement process and integrating local purchases into their regular operation! While supporting Lakes and Pines’ main program through this process, we also worked closely with one of their “partner centers,” Allstar Child Care, and supported them in launching local purchasing this year.  

Each of our four Head Start partners provided a unique opportunity for us to learn more about the food environment and supply chains in rural Minnesota settings, and how to adapt our Farm to Head Start model to best suit each organization’s needs. We are excited to use our lessons learned in 2017 as we enter new partnerships in the future and are confident that our efforts to build sustainable partnerships that foster thriving local food systems will pay off in their continued engagement.